More of the Same?

For many in the foodservice community 2013 may arrive with a certain sense of déjà vu. That's because it seems like 2013 is poised to offer more of the same type of operating environment the industry experienced over the previous 12 months.

Along those lines, the National Restaurant Association projects industry sales will grow 3.38 percent to $660 billion this year. When stripped down for inflation, that's a real growth rate of 0.8 percent. Not exactly what one would consider robust.

Several key economic factors seem to be contributing to this snail's paced growth rate. For one, the national employment situation seems stuck in neutral. And the NRA projects only moderate gains in Gross Domestic Product and personal income levels compared to previous years, which impacts consumers' ability to use foodservice more.

In addition, foodservice operators face a series of business challenges. The NRA projects wholesale food prices will increase by an average of 4.2 percent this year. While not as significant as the 8.1 percent increase in wholesale food prices the industry experienced two years ago, this is significant enough to force operators to diligently manage their cost structures across the board because in an intensely competitive environment they can't simply make up for it by raising prices. And as the next phases of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act start to take effect, operators and other members of the foodservice industry are starting to come to terms with how it will impact their cost structures and more.

The good news is that operators seem more and more interested in embracing technology to help drive consumer engagement and help make their businesses more efficient. While customer-facing technologies like iPad apps and ordering kiosks have broad-based consumer appeal, operators need to leverage these systems to get a better handle on their businesses and use the data these systems can generate to make informed decisions about menu, staffing, design and equipment selection as they contemplate their kitchens of the future.

Despite the challenges they face, the charity and warmth many individual members of the foodservice industry regularly exhibit never ceases to amaze me. Take, for example, New Jersey-based distributor Dean Langella, and the tremendous charity he and his family have shown in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (see page 10). And consultant Harry Schildkraut and Kristin Sedej, his partner at s20 Consulting feel so fortunate to be a part of this industry that they regularly offer their services pro bono to non-profits that can use them, in this case Ronald McDonald House and the Salvation Army (see page 70). The impact of their contributions is unmistakable.

After reconsidering the charitable acts of people like Dean and Harry and positive growth, regardless of how small, perhaps more of the same ain't so bad after all.

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